Thursday, August 11, 2011

Game Review: 1942 (NES)

  • Publisher: Capcom
  • Developer: Capcom (Arcade) / Micronics (NES)
  • Release: NES, November 1986
  • Genre: 2D Action (Shoot-Em-Up)
  • Players: 1-2 Alternating
  • Rarity: Common (US$5-10)
Okay, I'm gonna say this upfront, just to get you thinking. This is set in World War II, and you play as an American pilot fighting against the Imperial Japanese air force. And this was made by a Japanese company. ...Does this connection seem weird to you? Okay, to be fair, Japan in the 80s was a far cry from Japan in the 40s, and there are no humans shown in-game. Plus, if modern Japan can finally own up to the Tojo era by treating it as a villain, then they may finally have made some progress in that area. In case you haven't been in a Japanese history class lately (neither have I), then you may notice that the Japanese today are very afraid of bringing up their prewar era and the atrocities committed against China, Korea, et. al. therein, almost to the point (if not worse) of modern Germany and the Nazis. Even I'll admit, it wan't exactly Japan's finest hour. Thankfully, 1942 stays clear of all the politics and invites you to just have a good time. But is it good enough to let you do so?

First showing up in 1984, 1942 comes from Capcom's first wave of arcade games, and it became their first true franchise, with somewhere around five sequels made since. It's a pretty simple little shoot-em-up in the grand scheme of things, far-removed from the Bullet Hells of today, but it does evolve the formula set by other titles like Space Invaders and Galaga. You play as a P-38 Lightning fighter for the Allied forces, and your ultimate goal is to survive a series of 32 levels while shooting down any Japanese planes that would pose a threat to your safety. Considering that at this point in time we were gradually moving away from video games you would just try to get a high score at, and could theoretically go on forever, to those with a definitive story and ending, having 32 levels which last as long as they do is pretty substantial. It's certainly a turnabout from its latest sequel, the download-exclusive 1942 Joint Strike, which only has four levels.
Can you see the enemy planes in this shot?
Ignoring how much game we have on our hands, you may believe that what is present isn't all that innovative, but try to understand that it was, for its time. There are numerous types of enemy planes, including some that take more than one hit to shoot down. They move in intricate, looping paths in numbers of up to a dozen on-screen at once. Formations of red planes give out power-ups (most of which, I'll admit, aren't all that impressive). In addition to shooting them down, you can perform loops to prevent yourself from crashing into bullets or other planes. As for how I play, I don't use the loops much; I just keep them for the point bonuses. And blank black space backgrounds? Forget about it: you get to fly over patterned seas and, in later levels, green islands complete with beaches. Too bad they tend to obscure you and/or the other planes.

So, with so much going on, how well did 1942 survive the porting to the NES. Answer: it didn't. The frame rate is atrocious (although this being a shoot-em-up, a little slowdown now and then is appreciated), almost as bad as the last game I reviewed. When oversized enemies fly near the top of the screen, some of their parts will be missing. Don't believe me? Check the screenshot below. On rare occasions, your shots will fail to fire even if the shooting sound effect plays. Even the HUD flickers every so often of you look hard enough. And that music... that horrible noise that's just drums and whistles! Okay, so it is the same music from the arcade version, but it's rendered so poorly and scratchy on this version.
It's not location-specific damage; it's a glitch.
Coming from an earlier time, 1942 is more of a no-frills shooting experience than most of you might be used to. I can imagine that it won't be to everyone's taste, but every now and then I can appreciate games without all those modern complexities. And complicated or not, I have to admire how much content they packed into it all. Seriously, try playing through all 32 levels yourself in one sitting (infinite mid-level continues are gracefully provided). Just do yourself a favor: if you are interested in trying out 1942, stay away from the NES version. A direct port of the arcade version is available as DLC for Wii (US$5) and on Gametap's basic subscription package (US$5/month). Or you could check out its sequel, 1943: The Battle of Midway, which was also ported to the NES. I hear that one runs pretty well.

Control: 3 Lightnings out of 5
Design: 3 Lightnings out of 5
Graphics: 1 Lightning out of 5
Audio: 1 Lightning out of 5
Value: 3 Lightnings out of 5
The Call: 45% (D-)

P.S. At this point, given the recent unpleasantness, I would like to delve into a little editorial content. As you know, Capcom has made a few... boneheaded business decisions over the past month. Out of rage, I was about to suggest to you readers that you boycott any and all Capcom-published games, which includes downloading the aforementioned Wii port of 1942. But I've had some time to think since I came up with the idea, and in this case, I'll say it's okay to buy 1942 if you really want to try it out. We shouldn't look at the company's game portfolio as a whole, but instead give our support to the franchises which deserve it the most. Since 1942 and its sequels are one of their lesser-developed franchises, then, why not?

Next Episode: After my previous rant, I still have some ill will pent up in me, so I'll take it elsewhere, like the Empire State... of Mind.

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